Jeff Sessions was officially confirmed as attorney general in a vote conducted Wednesday evening. The vote was expected to be split along party lines with a Republican-majority Senate, but one lone Democrat voted in favor of Sessions, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
Sessions’ confirmation comes after weeks of heated debate against the former Alabama senator. Democratic senators argued that Sessions had a history of racist behavior, including calling a black attorney “boy” and proclaiming that he was alright with members of the KKK until he discovered that they smoked marijuana.
Huffington Post reported that in 1986, when Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship, the Alabama native was deemed “too racist” to serve on the federal court. Now Sessions is attorney general in the Trump White House. Sessions’ nomination in 1986 was so controversial it spurred Coretta Scott King, wife of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., to write a letter opposing Sessions.
King’s 1986 letter was used as evidence against Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general. Elizabeth Warren read part of King’s letter about Sessions during a senate meeting on Tuesday night, but was sharply rebuked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell and Steve Daines (R-Montana), who was presiding over the Senate on Tuesday, invoked the rarely used Senate Rule 19, effectively silencing Warren. According to CNN, Daines told Warren, “The senator is reminded that it is a violation of Rule 19 of the standing rules of the Senate to impugn another senator or senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.” McConnell also said of Warren, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Senator Warren also alleged that Sessions would not be able to stand up against Trump if the country needed him to. It is a poignant contrast considering Sessions asked Sally Yates, recently fired former attorney general, the same thing during her 2015 confirmation hearing. “You have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things and you need to say no. You think the attorney general has the responsibility to say no to the President if he asks for something that’s improper?” Sessions asked Yates.
Deeply disappointed that the Senate confirmed an AG whose record does not show he will faithfully & fairly enforce the law.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) February 9, 2017
Yates demonstrably said no to the Trump White House when she refused to defend Trump’s executive order, also known as the “Muslim ban.” The order does not allow people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. When Yates refused to enforce the order, she was fired from her position and Trump labeled her a traitor.
After Warren was officially silenced, other Democratic and independent politicians picked up where she left off and read King’s anti-Sessions letter on Wednesday before the confirmation vote. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) represented Warren and their opposition to Sessions by making King’s words known.
However, although the majority of Democrats voted against Sessions, it was not a unanimous vote. The New York Times reported that Joe Manchin III voted to confirm Sessions, the only Democratic senator to do so. Sessions was confirmed in a 52-47 vote. Republicans could have confirmed the attorney general with a party majority, but Manchin still voted in favor of Sessions despite Democrats’ opposition.
The West Virginia senator is from a state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump and Manchin has actually praised Trump in the past. According to Heavy, Manchin believes that Trump’s cabinet picks should “get a fair chance,” but has also criticized Republican obstructionism during the Obama administration.
Although Manchin confirmed Sessions, he voted against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when she was in the confirmation phase. Manchin is considered a centrist Democrat, but Trump considered him briefly for a cabinet position. According to Manchin, he and Trump call each other directly and the senator plans to “negotiate” with Trump over the next four years.
Sessions’ confirmation puts an end to one of the most contentious cabinet appointments to date. In addition to Sessions being accused of racism, he has also spoken out against abortion, flag desecration, and medical marijuana.
Although the derogatory accusations against Sessions are numerous, his stance on marijuana seems to be the most divisive. In the past, Sessions has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and has compared marijuana to other Schedule 1 drugs such as heroine and cocaine. During a Senate hearing, Sessions said, “We need grown ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger.”
Currently there are 28 states, plus Washington, D.C., that allow legal medical marijuana. With Sessions’ recent confirmation, it is unclear how he will affect medical marijuana policy during his time as attorney general. However, Senator Warren proclaimed that she and other Democrats will not be silenced during the Trump administration.
Consider this MY warning: We won’t be silent. We will speak out. And we WILL persist.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) February 9, 2017
[Featured Image by Alex Brandon/AP Images]